The Parioli grove was established by one of Central Otago's olive growing pioneers John Fairmaid. The first trees were planted in 1997 with the grove developing through the succeeding few years. The first significant production of oil was in 2002 with production growing as each season allows since. We purchased the grove in 2007 and attempted to continue its high standard of management from Auckland. This proved to be more of a challenge than expected and oil production declined for a few years. We are now getting production levels back up having moved permanently to Central Otago in late 2010.
The Grove comprises just over 400 trees of 14 varieties with the predominant plantings in Barnea, South Australian Verdale and Minerva.
As John wrote about olive growing in Central Otago in the early days;
In almost all respects the olivecultural conditions are ideal – soil characteristics, free drainage, low rainfall, high summer temperatures and winter chilling. The major drawback is the severity of winter conditions occasionally experienced to which young trees and ripening fruit may be vulnerable. There is mounting evidence that `cold-climate’ production conditions may enhance the organoleptic and keeping qualities of locally produced olive oil. Central Otago oils have characteristically intense fruity and herbaceous flavours, and, with proper care in storage, have a longer than normal shelf life.
We are challenged by the early on-set of winter in some seasons. Early flowering and high sunshine hours during the summer are required for the fruit to develop to the point where it can withstand the Autumn frosts. If the fruit gets a late start and we get early frosts we can loose a great deal of fruit. If it all works out we can end up with a crop far larger than we can cope with - ah, the vagaries of contracting with Mother Nature.
We have found that the different varieties give us a buffer against the different seasons with one or two varieties providing us with a good crop at picking. Picking is usually done in early June but can be anytime from mid May to as late as early August depending on the year. A willing band of friends and neighbours help out and enjoy what is a very social experience. It's not hard work, but it can be a bit cold first thing.
Jane and Craig are 'accidental' olive growers but love what they have stumbled into. We say we are accidental olive growers because we didn't set out to buy an olive grove but just a nice piece of land in Central Otago for our possible retirement. John Fairmaid was joined in the early establishment of olive growing in Bannockburn by George Douglas (Craig's father) when he developed the block of land next door as Saffron Farm. So when John announced that he was ready to spend more time in France and less time pruning the trees we had found our piece of land, it came with the added bonus of being covered in beautiful olive trees and it expanded the family enterprise.
Craig was trained at Lincoln College in the mid 1980's, has never really utilised his training but is dredging up some of the basic lessons from the distant past. Working full time in the tourism industry in Queenstown restricts his time in the grove to weekends.
Jane is medically trained but has spent recent years bringing up the family. Now that they are largely off our hands (are they ever?) Jane has time to spend tending the trees and coordinating sales throughout the year.
We are lucky to have good advice coming across the fences. George continues to keep his grove in immaculate condition and produces a range of different varieties. John continues to grow olives for his own use on the land he retained with his Italian inspired home overlooking Lake Dunstan.